When Lance Lau Hin-yi organised his first beach clean-up, no one turned up. In hindsight, he understood why: a hasty social media post just days before a planned event wasn’t quite the citywide rallying cry the then ten-year-old had hoped. Nevertheless, the day came, and Lance and his parents, Martina Yu and Gabriel Lau went from their home on Lantau Island to a nearby mangrove tangled with manmade detritus. When it was clear no others were joining, the family of three made a go of it anyway. It was disappointing yet catalyzing for Lance, who, after watching a video on plastic waste by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, decided to join the cause. One year after Thunberg’s first “school strike for climate” in August 2018, which would go on to become the global Fridays for Future movement, Lance decided to use Fridays to raise awareness at his school, Ying Wa Primary.
Since then, photos of Lance’s round, bespectacled face and handmade signs urging “climate action now” have become synonymous with youth activism in Hong Kong. He is a familiar presence at clean-ups and rallies and was named a “climate hero” by the local press. Since September 2019, Lance has spent Fridays sounding the alarm at his school and, during the lockdown, in his neighborhood to anyone who will listen. “I felt I had to keep my strike going and try to make a difference. And sitting at home doesn’t really make a difference,” he says.
During a pandemic that has disrupted the world and forced people to change the way they communicate, not least warranting this interview to be conducted via video call, much of Lance’s activism has been conducted online. Tatler met Lance, now 12, the night before his 93rd strike, the last of his primary school years and his final term-time demonstration in Hong Kong. On a rainy night, Lance appeared in an avocado coloured T-shirt in the family’s cluttered, colorful study in their Tung Chung home. He didn’t beat around the bush.
“If we don’t solve this problem, we’re gonna die,” he said, adding that Thunberg’s video left him with “no choice” but to spread the message. “I have to do it. It’s my future, it’s our future, the future of humanity.”
In May 2019, more than 1.5 million young people in more than 125 countries walked out of schools, colleges, and universities in the biggest day of global climate action ever. The UN secretary-general António Guterres endorsed the school strikes, saying: “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry.” It brought to light the uncomfortable reality that while climate change is well-publicized, few societies are willing to take meaningful steps to combat it, and individuals often feel too insignificant to influence change.
When Lance was ten, he was invited to speak alongside Adrian Cheng, CEO of New World Development and one of Hong Kong’s most influential businessmen, at a sustainability forum created to spotlight the city’s changemakers. In a statement, Cheng described Lance as a “doer” with a “profound influence in the Hong Kong community”. New World Development subsequently became the first real estate company in Hong Kong to join the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, with Cheng pledging to reduce the group’s carbon emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 based on 2015 levels.
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